Saturday, April 29, 2017

One Week, Three Airlines: Southwest

I'm a happy Medallion flier with Delta. However, this year's post-Holy Week/Easter time away required a reasonably priced one-way ticket up to Washington Dulles on Easter Monday morning. Delta was exorbitant. Southwest was about half the cost, for an 8:50 am departure. So, I signed up for a Rapid Rewards account and purchased the ticket ...

Getting to the airport for an early morning departure from the Northside isn't easy, especially given the recent, um, traffic troubles plaguing the ATL. I opted for MARTA. A smooth 40 min ride from Northsprings and I was at the Airport Metro station, at about 7:00 am, a little under two hours prior to departure. I'd already checked in just about 24 hours hour prior, and printed out my boarding pass, receiving position B-43 in Southwest's first-come-first-served check-in-process, as well as TSA Precheck (that's part of the Global Entry program). Not 10 minutes later, I'd dropped my check-in bag off (no charge!) ... and then I saw the humongous line at the TSA Precheck line. Like, serpentine. Ginormous. It took 25 minutes to get to the front, to the TSA agent checking IDs, and less than 5 minutes for the actual screening. I'm not used to flying out of Hartsfield Jackson this early, so this was a definite first.

I still had 50 minutes before boarding officially began, so I took the train all the way to F to check out The Club at ATL, one of the few non-Delta Sky Club lounges at Hartsfield Jackson, using my soon-to-expire Priority Pass Plus membership that I had purchased the previous year, when I was overseas for an extended period of time. It was, to put it mildly, a thorough disappointment. It seemed small and cramped, with an uninspiring view landside. The food options were limited (yogurts, granola, cereal, fruit), the WiFi was rather slow, probably because the place was packed. I stayed about 15 minutes, and grabbed a granola par and then took the train back to the C concourse, to meet up with my traveling companion, who was waiting at gate C10.

The entrance to the Club at ATL. Not worth it. 
Boarding started promptly at 8:30 am, and proceeded smoothly. Most people knew what to do. We found our proper pillar in the B sequence. Once on board, it was clear that the window seats up front were taken, so we ended up towards the back, just behind the wing (I didn't make a note of the row!). It had the standard US domestic pitch, and my legs could stretch out underneath the seat in front of me ... at least as long as the person in front didn't recline!

Southwest's efficient boarding process. 
View from the seat ... 
A few minutes before 8:50, boarding was complete and we pushed back soon thereafter. A short taxi to runway 26L, and 9W 3872 was on it's way to Dulles. About 15 minutes into the 1h20m flight, a simply beverage service started (pretzels only, no peanuts unfortunately). Between prayer, conversation and some reading, I didn't really need to get online. The crew was efficient and friendly, but I didn't see any evidence of the famous Southwest quirkiness. We touched down a little early at 10:20 am, and it was a short wait before my bag arrived at the carousel at baggage claim.

All in all, for shorter flights, I could totally see myself using Southwest. Efficient, friendly, service. Decent on-board product. Yeah, no upgrades, but they're often cheaper or much cheaper than Delta. Besides, there's two free checked bags (remember when this was standard?), TSA Precheck, and an efficient boarding process. One could pay to get priority boarding. I don't generally drink on flights, so that's not an issue either. If it weren't for the other perks of Medallion status, especially internationally, or for longer flights,  9W would be a serious contender!

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